It’s All in Good Fun, Right?

In Eliza Haywood’s ‘Fantomina,’ our protagonist, The Lady (or Fantomina/Celia/Mrs. Bloomer/Incognita), takes a walk on the more exotic side, to put it nicely, as she investigates the phenomenon of sexual behavior. Where, during the first half of the novel, a reader is told that her motivation for adamantly pursuing her preferred lover is potentially an acquired sense of actual love, by the latter half, one really needs to analyze the change in The Lady’s attitude and actions to come to the conclusion that perhaps her drive comes from an adherence to a more animalistic instinct; perhaps she is merely having fun. The most direct way that one may observe this metamorphosis is to pay attention to the themes and behaviors behind her varying personas.

During her time as Fantomina, though this persona was a prostitute, the reader still senses a degree of┬ámoral attachment as she felt true moral anguish after having lost her virtue: “Oh! no, I am undone beyond the power of heaven itself to me” (Haywood, 2570)! This scene itself reveals that it is not entirely the pursuit of fun that governs The Lady’s actions, rather, with the revelation that “her eyes resumed their softening glances” (Haywood 2570) towards Mr. Beauplaisir, one might consider her motivation to be a legitimate want and attraction – a type of love – for her “partner.” By the time The Lady switches to her country girl persona in Celia, one notices that she is still very concerned with embodying a person who exhibits genuine decency and a higher devotion to moral attachment. For example, when Beauplaisir approached this woman and made his advances, “she answered with such seeming innocence,” and showed a face painted with “blushing beauties” (Haywood, 2573), all lending to a more angelic, young woman. After having been scarred twice now by her lover’s eventual indifference with his partner(s), her third transformation into Widow Bloomer is one that is made with a much greater degree of deviousness and lack of decency. Rather than attempting to appear young and innocent, now she embodies a personality that seems more experienced and distraught with her situation. Simultaneously, however, she allowed him to make his pursuit of her by letting him believe that – as a widow mind you – “joy-giving passion was indeed the subject she was best pleased to be entertained with” (Haywood, 2575). This paints her as indecent to a reader by many accounts. Now, no longer is she merely engaging in sexual behavior with a man she is not officially promised to and who is outside of her social strata, but she is also disrespecting the dignity of a widow and her devotion to her husband. If this is not where the reader might begin to suspect her actions as being driven by a desire for fun, then her final persona, Incognita, will surely help to do so. This whole chapter represents a great shift in the dynamic of The Lady’s character at the beginning of the story. She goes as far as to hire two complete strangers to help her in her act and sends out a letter straight to Beauplaisir inviting him to her place for another sexual encounter. When he responds confirming the date, she makes quite the revealing statement: “Possession naturally abates the vigor of desire…O that all neglected wives and fond abandoned nymphs would take this method” (Haywood, 2580)! Here she boasts of her discovery of never-ending passion. It’s almost as though she relinquishes the feelings of true love, throwing such thoughts aside as mere fantasies, and instead fancies her ability to trick Beauplaisir into feeling the ultimate degree of satisfaction every time he partakes in intercourse. That night she takes joy in having complete control over the situation. She clearly is not so much concerned with his pleasure as she is with hers, which can be seen by her consistent disregard for his wishes – those mainly being to take off the mask she wore. It is not until her mom comes back into town and she is discovered to be with child that the fun ends for her and reality comes crashing back down.

In the end, one might argue that The Lady allowed herself to be swept up by her lover’s actions so, that she ultimately became a very similar being to him. Where, at first, she harbored feelings of love and a genuine desire to be with Mr. Beauplaisir, towards the end she began to become more concerned with taking joy in the action of sexual intercourse instead. It is conceded that, even with her eventual lust for fun, she still stuck to one man and never moved on to another. With this being said, perhaps there truly was still a dormant desire for attached love, but one cannot ignore the metamorphoses that The Lady undergoes with her various personas, and how she eventually became a creature who, unchecked, gave in to her desires and sought mere pleasure by the culmination of her adventure.

 

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